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IMA and the International Year of Chemistry

The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) and the United Nations have declared 2011 the International Year of Chemistry.  An entire year’s worth of programming across the globe will “celebrate the achievements of chemistry and its contributions to the well-being of humankind.”  National chemistry societies, universities, and corporations are recognizing the Year of Chemistry by hosting a variety of events that highlight the role of chemistry in our everyday lives.  The IMA, although regularly considered an arts-based institution, has recently added a state-of-the-art chemical research and analysis laboratory to its conservation department.  In recognition of the new role of science at the IMA, I accepted an invitation from the Turkish Chemical Society to conduct a weeklong speaking tour of research universities in Istanbul, promoting the role of chemistry in the understanding and preservation of cultural patrimony.

View from Galata Tower across the “Golden Horn” toward the Old City of Istanbul.

While in Istanbul, I presented three hour long seminars on various aspects of conservation science, including research on artwork authentication, the use of lasers in the study and treatment of degraded artists’ pigments, and the theory and technology of near-infrared imaging of artwork.  In addition to lecturing, I was also able to tour the myriad of Turkish cultural landmarks in Istanbul such as the Topkapi Palace, Galata Tower, Haiga Sofia, and the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (photo below).

As a cultural crossroads for centuries, Istanbul is the home of many world treasures.  I was fortunate to get several “behind the scenes” tours of some of Istanbul’s top academic and government laboratories dedicated to the preservation and study of these objects.  Tours and consultations included the newly outfitted instrumental analysis labs at the Süleymaniye Library and the Directorate of Conservation Restoration Implementation and Supervision on Historic Heritage (KUDEB).  I look forward to collaborating with my new colleagues in Turkey as they host the upcoming 2nd International Congress on Chemistry for Cultural Heritage.


Tearin’ It Up: The Construction of a New Conservation Lab

Construction is underway on the IMA’s new conservation science facility. This re-purposed area of the museum was demolished to the studs in a matter of hours once Hagerman construction group’s crew arrived on site last week. It was truly amazing to see how quickly this whole corner of the Museum could be disassembled, carted away, recycled, and laid bare.

It was also interesting what a psychological effect the demolition had. Although I anticipated the space looking much larger once it was opened up, it surprisingly felt much less spacious. Still, the whole facility is a very generous 2000 square feet of useable laboratory, office, and conference room space.

As a colleague noted, “Anyone can disassemble the Space Shuttle, putting it back together is another thing!” Now begins the much slower and deliberate steps of reassembling the space into a state-of-the-art research and analysis facility. Planning for the construction only took about 3 months from the time of my arrival in Indianapolis this January, but much thought went into each step of the reconstruction.

There were a myriad of technical issues that had to be sorted out to supply the instrumental stations with the necessary compressed gases, electrical, water, vacuum, and ventilation systems. In addition, several structural changes were made to the space to accommodate the greening of the museum. For instance, three new sub-zero, heavily insulated windows will replace the previous panes in order to preserve and regulate the interior climate of the lab while also eliminating UV radiation. These replacements are necessary because the lab will host museum artworks undergoing in situ nondestructive analysis, and so the spaces must meet the same climate, lighting, and security guidelines as the conservation studios and museum galleries.

In addition, the science wing extends out from the museum’s envelope, and the 3 exterior walls are all ‘furred out’ approximately 4 inches with a new metal stud and sheetrock wall. This improves on the original construction, which comprised a thin Styrofoam insulation layer directly on top of the exterior concrete wall, providing a less than ample thermal barrier. The new wall cavity will allow for additional insulation and a stronger framing for anchoring cabinetry, hanging artwork, running interior conduit, and installing instrumentation.

With all the work ongoing for the physical lab space, behind the scenes the conservation department is assembling the reference materials used as comparative samples for artists’ materials studies (e.g. the pigment collection below), as well as determining the research and technical study priorities for the museum.

We are on track to open the lab in early Fall with a full complement of scientific instrumentation and a large list of research projects!


About gdsmith

Title: Senior Conservation Scientist Interests: Home brewing Favorite Movies: The Hangover Favorite Music: folk Favorite Food: chocolate & coffee, together or separate Pets: No, thank you. Something Extra: Lived in London and loved it.

Greg has written 7 articles for us.